CAIRO - The election of the first hijab-clad mayor in Bosnia is raising high hopes among Muslims to change the prevailing misconceptions about the headscarf in the country and across Europe.
People think that if you are covered, you're stupid, Senada Spahovic, 46, who works as a cook at an Islamic boarding school just outside of Visoko, told The Washington Post on Sunday, March 10.
This is my shield on my head.
Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one's affiliations.
The Muslim headscarf has long been a part of life in Bosnia, especially in rural areas.
But hijab dropped away under the communist rule, pushing many Muslims to take off the outfit.
But the election of Amra Babic in November as the mayor of Visoko municipality in central Bosnia has raised hopes to change the perceptions about the Muslim headscarf.
I am European, I am Muslim. This is my identity, Babic, a mother of three, said.
The hijab is what you see on the outside. But the strength is what's inside, not to do bad deeds. To live my life in honesty, and not to speak the language of hate.
The Muslim headscarf has been in the eye of storm in the West in recent years.
In 2004, France banned the wearing of hijab in schools and public places. The country also banned the Muslim face-veil several years later.
Several European countries have engaged in debates on banning the Muslim outfit in public places.
The election of the hijab-clad mayor is seen as helping more public expression of Islam in Bosnia.
She means something new here, not just for Bosnia but for Europe too, Sumejja Essidiri, 19, who was in a study hall of tittering girls, told The Washington Post.
When we cover our heads we say, Okay, I'm a Muslim and I'm open,' she said.
Bosnian women who do not wear hijab are also proud of the veiled mayor.
We are proud that she was elected, Jasmina Ismic, 60, a Visoko native with a stylish brown bob, said.
Though hijab is increasingly visible on the streets, Bosnian Muslims complain of discrimination because of their headscarf.
Muslim women in the army have complained of being harassed if they cover their heads.
The country has also been gripped by a heated debate on allowing veiled women to serve in the judiciary.
During communism, you didn't have educated women wearing the head scarf rising to positions of prominence, said Djermana Seta, the head of the research at the NAHLA Center for Education and Research.
Even now, Seta said, the main sentiment is, This is an uneducated, rural woman.'
Bosnia, a small country on the Balkan Peninsula, is home to three ethnic "constituent peoples": mainly Muslim Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats.
Out of Bosnia and Herzegovina's nearly 4 million population, some 40 percent are Muslims, 31 percent Orthodox Christians and 10 percent Catholics.
The country is facing numerous problems as unemployment, which rocketed to about 50 percent.
Distrust is also high among the country's ethnic groups and official corruption is rampant.
However, the Muslim mayor, whose husband was killed before giving birth to her youngest child, is resolved to solve problems facing her town.
Ordinary people don't need much, said Babic.They just need to feel that someone is looking after them.